This is a course blog for the members of EH236 at the University of South Alabama, Spring 2006.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

A disturbing outlook on humankind

Swift uses his character Gulliver, in his travel narrative, Gulliver’s Travels, to relay his misanthropic opinion to society. He does this through many different means through the guise of a traveler who may or may not be seen as delirious.
For example, when in conversation with the houyhnhm that he refers to as master, he describes a very exaggerated and disturbing portrayal of human society. He tends to touch solely on the many vices of mankind, such as lust, greed, and manipulation. When asked to explain to his master the meaning of law, Gulliver talks about how lawyers are liars whose only concern is money and hurting other people. He states that the purpose of a judicial court is only to inappropriately rule in favor of the wrong party even if they are bribed to rule in favor of the right one. This outlook provides the reader with a vivid taste of how Gulliver dislikes the ways of his society.
Furthermore, Gulliver’s absolute distaste for the Yahoos on the island provides an even stouter portrayal of Swift’s misanthropy. At first meeting with the creatures, Gulliver is so disgusted by them he doesn’t even recognize that they are human. Later in the narrative, he is so terrified of being compared with them that he leaves his clothing on lest his master should notice the similarities between the yahoos and him. Once he becomes more familiar with the ways of the yahoos, he notices how their vices are much like the vices of the European yahoos. This discovery appalls him and becomes the basis of his hatred for all of mankind.
Finally, the most vivid depiction of Swift’s misanthropy is given with Gulliver is rescued by the Portuguese travelers and brought back to his home. When he first spots the ship headed toward the island he is stranded on, he decides he would rather “trust [himself] among the barbarians, than live with European yahoos” (Swift 191). After being forced onto the ship, he makes many vain attempts to escape, even trying to throw himself off of the boat just to get away from these creatures that he despises. Even when he is offered generosities from the ship’s captain, Pedro de Mendez, such as clothing, food, and a clean bed, he is revolted by the smell of yahoos, and refuses anything unless he washes it himself or lets it air out for at least twenty-four hours. Also, when he gets back to England and back to his family, he is so sickened by his wife and children, especially when she comes up to kiss him, that he falls into a swoon and thereafter, refuses to dine, sleep, or even talk with them.
Swift uses this fantastic narrative as a guise to distribute his own political opinion to the country, exaggerating the vices of man through a delusional traveler. The reader can see the severe distaste that Swift has for his fellow beings that harbors almost to the point of hatred. Therefore my answer is yes; Gulliver’s Travels was absolutely a misanthropic tale.


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